IBM System x3650 M4 review

13 Aug 2012

Not perfect, but a good choice for SMBs that want an affordable 2U rack server that can grow with them

Price when reviewed: 
4,007(£4,006 inc VAT)
5

The System x3650 has always been IBM’s workhorse rack server, and in this exclusive review we test the new M4 model. Along with support for Intel’s E5-2600 Xeons, IBM has designed this server to allow businesses to start small and pay as they grow.

You can choose from a wide range of storage and RAID options. Our review sample came with eight hot-swap SFF SAS/SATA drive bays, and you can upgrade to 16 bays. Usefully, the 8 Pac upgrade has a SAS expander card on its backplane. Unlike the HP DL380p Gen8, you don’t need a second RAID card and so won’t lose a PCI Express slot.

Those with deep pockets can order the server with up to 32 of IBM’s 1.8in SSDs. If capacity is more important, you can have six hot-swap LFF hard disk bays, and then there’s the configure to order (CTO) model that cuts costs by using six cold-swap SATA bays.

IBM System x3650 M4

IBM has improved its RAID options, as the base ServeRAID M5110e controller is embedded on the motherboard. This supports 6Gbits/sec SAS and SATA drives, but if you want more than stripes and mirrors, one upgrade gives RAID5 and 50, and a second takes that to RAID6 and 60.

Cache starts at 512MB with a battery pack, or you can go for 512MB or 1GB of flash-backed cache. As RAID is based on LSI’s SAS2208 chip, you have the option to activate its CacheCade feature to optimise read activity from an SSD-based cache.

The x3650 M4 showcases IBM’s new IMM2 embedded management controller. The basic version is of limited use since it doesn’t support web browser management or KVM over IP remote control. Our system included the IMM2 Advanced upgrade, which activates the Gigabit port at the back. The browser interface sees a substantial redesign over the older IMM and provides more information about critical components.

However, it comes up short of Dell’s iDRAC7 for features and is beaten soundly by HP’s new iLO4. On a more positive note, IBM’s Systems Director utility is easier to use than Dell’s Management Console and HP’s Insight Control.

Designed to manage network devices, Systems Director provides discovery, software deployment, inventory, file transfer and VNC-
based remote control tools. The Active Energy Manager plugin talks to the IMM2 and provides power capping, plus trend graphs of power consumption and system temperatures.

IBM is lagging behind in deployment, since you still have to boot with the ServerGuide DVD to get an OS. Dell did away with this three years ago, and HP’s Gen8 servers now have the new Intelligent Provisioning feature.

IBM System x3650 M4

The IBM is virtualisation-ready since its internal USB port uses a key to boot into VMware ESXi or vSphere 5. HP’s DL380p Gen8 provides internal USB and SD card slots, but Dell goes one step beyond as its R720 has dual internal SD card slots for hypervisor redundancy.

Memory options are extensive, and the x3650 M4 is the first of IBM’s servers to be offered with HyperCloud DIMMs (HCDIMMs). These are expensive but support up to 384GB running at 1,333MHz with three DIMMs per channel, and claim a 25% performance boost over standard RDIMMs.

Network connections are also more flexible: the IBM has four embedded Gigabit ports plus a dedicated connector for an Emulex dual-port 10GbE mezzanine card. The HP has one connector that supports either quad Gigabit or dual 10GbE cards.

The quoted price includes a pair of 750W hotplug supplies, which will cover most workloads, but you can opt for 550W or 900W modules. With Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise idling, we recorded a draw of 98W, and with SiSoft Sandra putting the processors under maximum load this peaked at only 222W.

Internal cooling is handled by a bank of four hotplug fans in front of the processors. With the HP sitting next to the x3650 M4, noise levels were low with nothing between the two.

SMBs looking for a general-purpose 2U rack server or something on which to run their critical apps will find IBM’s x3650 M4 worthy. It isn’t as sophisticated as the HP, but it’s good on features and value, and will be easy to upgrade.

Details

Price ex VAT £3,339

Warranty

Warranty 3yr NBD warranty

Ratings

Overall rating 5
Performance 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 5

Physical

Server format Rack
Server configuration 2U

Processor

CPU family Intel Xeon
CPU nominal frequency 2.30GHz
Processors supplied 2
CPU socket count 2

Memory

RAM capacity 256GB
Memory type DDR3

Storage

Hard disk configuration 2 x 300GB IBM 10k SAS
Total hard disk capacity 600GB
RAID module IBM ServeRAID-M5110e
RAID levels supported 0, 1, 10

Networking

Gigabit LAN ports 4

Motherboard

PCI-E x16 slots total 6

Power supply

Power supply rating 750W

Noise and power

Idle power consumption 98W
Peak power consumption 222W